Tag: horror

Back Catalog Review: Kwaidan

Kwaidan 2

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films.

When I was very young, my grandmother had a picture book of Japanese folklore. I remember reading it alongside Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and together they kindled a small fire of horror fandom that would eventually turn into the deep love I have for the genre today. I was engrossed by the strange Japanese demons and ghosts in the picture book, and I was intrigued by the different art style that was more in line with the flat compositions typical of classical Japanese artwork. The memory of reading this book came flooding back when I sat down to watch Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, a film comprised of four shorts depicting ghost stories set in Japan’s distant past.

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Book Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

Sing Unburied Sing

A year and a half ago I read Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner and found within it one of my favorite passages of all time:

Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was not a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth. He was a barracks filled with stubborn back-looking ghosts still recovering, even forty-three years afterward, from the fever which had cured the disease, waking from the fever without even knowing that it had been the fever itself which they had fought against and not the sickness, looking with stubborn recalcitrance backward beyond the fever and into the disease with actual regret, weak from the fever yet free of the disease and not even aware that the freedom was that of impotence.

The passage is about a young man growing up in the Reconstruction South where everybody was still obsessed with their “lost cause” and the lengths they went to in an effort to retain their right to own other people. The “back-looking ghosts” are an amazing image for that desire to return over and over again to a battle that was already fought and rightfully lost, and that Quentin is literally constructed as a place to hold these ghosts in the logic of the sentence is something that has stuck with me and will continue to do so. It changed the way I think about ghost stories, the Civil War, the American South, the passage of time, and race. I guess I have been looking for a story that would strike me as much as this one part of a paragraph did.

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Movie Review: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

I’ve been reading a really great book (Shocking Representation: Historical Trauma, National Cinema, and the Modern Horror Film by Adam Lowenstein) about allegorical horror and its ability to address historical situations in ways that other genres find more difficult. I’ve realized that this subgenre is one that really hits my buttons with movies like Onibaba and mother! scattered around my lists of favorite films, horror and otherwise. A Quiet Place is not one of those films, at least not as far as I can tell. There’s no national trauma that this seems to be calling to mind, nor is it engaging in a conversation with other films that do so. And yet, it’s my new favorite movie of the year so far because it’s so damn good at the very basics of the horror genre (it’s scary af) and it has a thematic concern that resonates beyond the thrills on offer.

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Shocktober 2012

A collection of the horror movies I watched in October 2012. It was my first foray into Hammer horror movies, and there’s a lot of campy stuff here. I’ve seen all the well known scary stuff, though, and some of the lesser known stuff as well. If you have any recommendations based on this list or just a favorite, let me know in the comments!

The Tall Man

Not really a horror film, and it takes its ideas way too far. What the film advocates is certainly not a good thing. A sad followup from the director of one of my favorite recent horror films, Martyrs, though it is at least well made. But to what end?

Chernobyl Diaries

I’m tired of zombies, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and mutants. I’m sure you know what Chernobyl is, so take a wild guess as to which one appears in this film. If a movie gives me a clever twist on one of those creatures, does anything different with them, then I’m all in. This movie had a chance to do that, with an early appearance by a bear. “Oh shit!” I thought, “Is there going to be a mutant bear in this movie!?!?!?” The answer, sadly is no. What we get are straight up mutants. Besides the setting, mostly Pripyat, the town where all of the Chernobyl workers lived which is now abandoned and super creepy, this movie has nothing new to add to the genre. Group arrives in strange place, things seem weird, but they’re ok, bad thing happens, they can’t leave, people start dying, some survive or they don’t, credits. It’s as standard as you can get. Not even a mutant bear with 6 arms and 2 heads or anything. Boo!

The Exorcist III

A good horror movie sequel is a rare sight. This is one of them. Written and directed by William Peter Blatty, author of the book the original film is based on, does an outstanding job of broadening the mythology and scaring. And, unexpectedly, bringing a little humor into the mix. Thanks largely to George C. Scott’s gristled old detective with connections aplenty to the happenings of the original film. There seems to be a serial killer around, one that everybody thought was dead. And he is targeting Scott’s friends at a hospital. Fully half of the movie takes place in the hospital, which is an interesting and creepy place to spend time. Blatty doesn’t show much of the gruesome killings, but the brutal descriptions do enough to get the point across.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say this is one of those movies where they slapped the name on a completely unrelated script to market it better. There’s no mention of spirits or demons or whatever for the first half of the film. But then everything clicks into place as Scott visits a mental patient in the hospital. It’s one of three scenes in a padded room, all of which are scary and intense. The patient seems to be Father Karras, the younger of the two exorcists in the first film. That is, until he looks a heck of a lot like Brad Dourif. Both actors play the psychopath part very well, Dourif especially takes great pleasure in going all out and it is great fun to watch. It’s the rare horror film that gets its scares from conversation, but this does so quite well. There are horrifying images and the climax works nicely. Seriously, this is a great horror film, and a worthy successor to one of the greatest (horror) films of all time. And the best part is that you can skip the horrible movie in between, The Heretic. That movie sucks.

The Curse of Frankenstein

I guess I expected more insanity in my first Hammer horror film. I had only really heard the name in relation to movies which featured crazy space monsters or whatever. I don’t know if that’s an accurate portrayal of the later films from the company, but it’s certainly not accurate for this film. In fact, it’s a pretty straightforward and tame-ish version of the classic story. It spends half its time in the build up, introducing characters and going through the motions. It’s all kind of rote, excepting the brief glimpses of blood, a nice little surprise which was handled cleverly. And then the monster is born and he goes on a rampage. And then he dies. Aha! A new thing! The movie diverges from the same old story and is better for it, though it again spends too much time away from the monster. Peter Cushing is charismatic and unhinged as the creator while Christopher Lee does wonders with his limited screen time. There’s all too much talking, and not even scary talking. The final 15 minutes or so are great, I just wish the rest of the movie had that kind of tension and creepy shots.

The Devil’s Bride (The Devil Rides Out)

Here’s a much more fun Hammer horror film. I generally like religious horror films, and cult films even more. I’m talking cult as in a charismatic leader with bad intentions, not a movie that has gained a following based on questionable merits, though one could make an argument there, too. It’s not a supremely well crafted film, and only Christopher Lee as the knowledgable and powerful good guy and Charles Gray as the delightfully evil bad guy are of any note, but the story moves along nicely, with a fantastic opening scene and an ever increasing assault of demonic conjurations. Only one of these is scary, the goat headed titular monster himself, who makes an appearance about halfway through the film. Still, it’s a fun time, and more like what I was expecting out of the company than what I saw the other night.

Paranormal Activity 3

Yep, this is the best one (still haven’t seen the fourth yet). Such a clever conceit with the fan thing. And that bathroom scene is super intense. Also, the events take place roughly half a year after I was born, so I could have been haunted by a creepy ghost named Toby (is there a name less scary than Toby?).

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Well, that’s Timur for you. Great action, silly everything else. Don’t know how much of that silliness comes from the source material, though the film was adapted by the author of the book, so I’d guess it’s pretty close to what he imagined. A lot of “Hey, this is Abe Lincoln! Killing vampires!” But the performances are mostly good and the action scenes are over the top and better for it. Horses! Trains! Axes! Silly, obviously CGI, but still much fun. Also, a nice tie in with the slavery angle. It makes sense and never feels out of place.

Stake Land

Zombie post apocalypse, but this time it’s vampires. In the end it doesn’t make that much of a difference. These vamps don’t have the super powers that those in ALVH do, so they just seem stronger and faster than the normal zombie. Still, the film does a good job of building the world, filled with different kinds of vampires and, more importantly and dangerously, people. Yes, as always, we are the real monsters. We create religions and rationalizations for the things that happen to us. We eat or get eaten. We form families if we lose those we are born into. It’s a deeper horror film, but it doesn’t forget to scare. The crazy Christian cult is just as intense as the blood suckers. The family forms, breaks, reforms, breaks. It’s a sad, dangerous cycle. This isn’t a happy movie, but it is a worthy Shocktober entry.

Funny story, I watched about 5 minutes of this when it was on Syfy a few months back. It had none of the vampire action so I thought it was just a rip-off of The Road (which it is, to some extent, though there’s more action and less soul crushing, but not by a whole ton). It wasn’t until the scene I had seen actually happened that I remembered my short affair with it. That’s all.

The Black Cat

Karloff and Lugosi combine for the first time in this film. It is insane. Mostly, it doesn’t make any sense at all. Things are brought up for no reason and very little of it is scary. Karloff is an evil architect (I’m sure they exist), and Lugosi is a maybe-evil psychologist, and there’s a married couple trapped between them. The two are obviously known for a reason, and they give this ridiculous script a little bit of weight just by saying the words. Any dialogue scene is okay to good, but the rest is silly. Silly and weird and weird and silly.

Predator 2

Why was Danny Glover cast in this film? Hey, we need a guy to play a cop in LA, anybody you know? I thought he was already too old for this shit, and he’s in the distant future of 1997 here. Must have some anti-aging medicine in the future. Anyways, this movie is like the first one, except dumber. THE CITY IS A JUNGLE, MAN! Street gangs with silly cocaine habits and super hunters from outer space collide! The only redeamable quality is the shot of the Predator’s trophy case. Please make a Predator Hunts Dinosaurs movie. As long as it doesn’t turn out as bad as the AVP films.

The House of the Devil

Ti West makes movies in which nothing happens until it does, then they’re crazy. I think The Innkeepers is a better film (and made in my home state!), but this is the one that put him on the map. Watching it again, you can see little hints of what’s to come, and the final fifteen minutes live up to the promise of the rest of the film. More importantly, though, this is a well crafted film. It looks great and it feels so very 80’s, which is fun.

The Gate

Kid lit is one of my favorite genres of books, will kid horror follow suit? Not with this entry, no. The Gate is scarier than I thought it’d be, but still not quite up to what I’d like in a scary movie. The biggest thing to recommend about the film is the fun special effects, mostly stop motion animation and miniaturizing people in goblin suits, which is an effectively creepy device. Stephen Dorff plays the lead role, an 8 or so year old trying to close a gate he accidentally opened to hell by reading some lines on a metal album cover. The movie seems like it’s over at a certain time, but it isn’t and what follows is an unexpected delight. This movie throws everything at the wall and hopes some of it sticks. Some does, others don’t. The most frightening thing is the hair and clothing styles.

Pet Sematary 2

The first one is okay, so’s this one. Some scary elements with the creepy dead dog and Clancy Brown doing his Clancy Brown thing. He’s fun when he’s dead, indulging in his evil tendencies even more than usual. But he did threaten to hit his step-son with a large cross before he died and came back to life, so I don’t quite know what the difference is. This movie isn’t as sad as the first one was, though it does feature a performance from Edward Furlong that is less whiny than his best known role as the savior of humanity. Also, there are some cute kitties, only a few of which get maimed in gruesome ways.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

The ultimate in paranoia horror. Can’t sleep, else you’ll be replaced by a plant version of yourself. Can’t emote, else the plant people will know you’re still human. Can’t know who your friends are. So scary. And that final shot. This should probably be in my top 100 list.

Hocus Pocus

Maybe the first movie that scared me, ever, this was my first rewatch since childhood. You can tell it was originally supposed to be a Disney Channel movie because everything is taken to extremes, including Bette Middler’s acting and teeth and hair. Watching now, it was hard to identify what spots exactly would be scary for a 6 or 7 year old me. Maybe Doug Jones’ zombie, though it turns out he’s a nice guy. He does his creepy movement thing. Also of note, this is a Sarah Jessica Parker movie where I didn’t hate her, so that’s something.

Top 5:

5. Paranormal Activity 3

4. The Devil Rides Out

3. The House of the Devil

2. The Exorcist III

1. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

So that’s my Shocktober. What did you watch? What should I watch next year? Let me know in the comments!

Movie Review: Entrance

There’s something about a horror film that I find comforting. I’ll watch any horror movie and generally know what I’m getting myself into. There’s the spooky introduction to the setting and main characters, maybe a good first death or two. Then our innocent hero(ine) gets introduced and we watch as they try to figure out what’s happening. They either do or they don’t and then the end. Scares happen in between, sometimes. Horror films are my comfort movies, as silly as that might sound.

So when a movie comes along that isn’t just one of those typical scarers I like it and am doubly frightened by it. This has happened before with movies like Funny Games, Martyrs, and Repulsion. These films hold nothing back. Nothing is sacred. You don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t know why it’s happening. This isn’t The Woman in Black (a pretty good movie that is super generic). Entrance is the first film by the directing duo of Dallas Richard Hallam and Patrick Horvath and it shows at times. You can see some camera shadows and sometimes it seems to get a little out of control. But they do a pretty damn good job of setting up something shocking. The first hour or so of this movie is kind of standard mumblecore. We have a young woman (played quite nicely by Suziey Block) transplanted from Minnesota to LA, struggling to find something worth caring about outside her dog. She has her daily routine and we get lulled watching her. Sometimes some strange things happen. A guy yells at her on the street, a car follows her on her way back home. She hears strange sounds in the middle of the night. It’s all so creepy because it is so very real. The point of the mumblecore genre is to present real people acting in a real way, and that works to up the tension of the things that are just slightly off. Then, in the last 20 minutes or so, shit gets crazy.

I’m not going to ruin what happens for you, because I think the film is worth a watch and it’d be mean to rob you of the excitement. There are some things that I can say, though. The last shot of the film lasts about 15 minutes and is quite scary. The camera shows little, just enough to give us a sense of what’s happening. Our heroine is terrified and so was I. Sticking with her perspective (if not her exact point of view) keeps us feeling like we’re out of control. And we are, that’s the point. The movie is about alienation, how being alone is the scariest thing you can be. Even surrounded by friends we aren’t safe. Who are they, anyways? They can’t protect us and we can’t protect them. If things are going to happen you’re just going to have to watch. That’s all we can do.

B.

Buy or rent Entrance on iTunes or Amazon.